Theological Mistakes #16: the Unlearning Process

Today, I would like to recycle a little article I wrote in 2008 for the Cathedral Messenger at Westwood Hills Christian Church on the “Unlearning Process.”

I once read an interview with a prominent physician who said that after twenty years, he estimated about 80% of his medical knowledge had been acquired after medical school. This is both obvious and scary at the same time. You mean he was only partially qualified when he finished med school? Is that why they say that doctors “practice” medicine? Actually, there is nothing unusual about this, and his comments do not diminish the fact that our medical schools and doctors are consistently excellent in what they do. The exceptions to this competence¬†are so rare as to make headlines.

I finished my Master of Divinity degree, the professional training for ministry, nearly 30 years ago. Since then, I have gained a great deal of knowledge about ministry from many different sources: reading, observation of others, seminars, practice (i.e., trial and error), and my many constructive critics.

One of the things I can see now is that while I have had to learn many new things, I have also had to “unlearn” some things I was taught. This is not a reflection on my education at Emmanuel School of Religion (now Emmanuel Christian Seminary), which was excellent. It is more a reflection on the many little truism-type sayings that were drilled into me over the years. I have begun to see that many of these things were not very Christian, much less biblical.

One of these old sayings I have been thinking about lately is the advice that we should pray as if everything depends on God, and work as if everything depends on us. The first part is certainly biblical. The Psalmist advised that we should “cast our cares on the Lord” (Psalm 55:22), advice echoed in 1 Peter 5:7.

In light of our utter dependence upon God, the advice to “work as if everything depends on us” is either bitter irony or simply wrong. To me, this smacks more of the American ideal of individualism and self-sufficiency than of dependence upon God. Do we abandon our faith in God’s providential care for us when we exit the prayer closet? I hope not.

I do not intend to give anyone I pretext for spiritual laziness, but to work under the pressure that you and you alone are the one who both sustains and makes a difference is both arrogant and depressing. There is no joy in this, and I believe that working for the Lord should be joyful service. So indulge me a little as I ammend the saying: We should pray as if everything depends on God, and work as if everything depends on God.

Because it does.

Mark S. Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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